Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

OWS needs to take responsibility for crowds’ actions

Post by Brian O'Neill on Nov. 5, 2011 at 12:10 pm with 25 Comments »
November 5, 2011 12:10 pm

On any given weekend, anywhere in the country, there is a wild teenage party. When the roof starts to shake and glass starts to break, the cops show up.

“It wasn’t my fault – I didn’t invite them!”

This is the typical explanation that the anxious and naïve teenager gives in reference to the few party crashers whose outrageous behavior has ruined everybody’s good time.

It’s an immature and lame response, but understandable with teenagers. It does not, however, excuse adults who provide a similar venue for all-comers. The  Occupy Wall Street protest’s peaceful protesters made numerous similar comments, none of which excuses their culpability.

Any attempt to deflect blame, against the backdrop of property damage and injuries to protesters and police officers alike, is going to be a tough sell for several reasons.

First are the videos. The most electrifying of these show masked figures within the protesters’ group throwing Molotov cocktails and chunks of cement at the police.

The conservative talking heads are, of course, taking this opportunity to rage against the movement, with statements like, “Well, what can you expect from a bunch of unemployed…”

Despite these valid points, most people recognize that the individuals who initially formed the Occupy movement are not represented by a handful of rock throwers and cop-haters. The violent images and the words of conservative pundits will fade in time. However, the reason that the Occupy movement will have a tough time distancing itself from the recent riotous destruction in Oakland is much more basic.

When protesters decided to throw a party in NYC, a party which went from the confines of Wall Street to downtowns throughout the country, they should have known that the party-crashers would eventually arrive.

Many have been suggesting that it is past time for the Occupy protests to find a different venue, one more viable for changing the methods of both the government and corporations than occupying city streets. Protesters refuse, however, and seem to suggest that to walk away from the picket line is to admit defeat. I don’t believe that’s true.

What is true, and obviously so, is that to remain in protest mode will allow other groups, such as anarchists, to use the Occupy movement’s bully pulpit to launch an unrelated and violent offensive against the police and the community. That is unacceptable.

In addition, the protests are forcing city governments to spend millions to keep cops and other emergency workers on overtime, while the violence is forcing neighborhood small businesses to close or increase their own security.

Knowing that, righteous Occupy protesters must either accept responsibility for the consequences of future violence initiated by elements within the crowd or else decide to take the Occupy movement to Phase 2. If they fail at this, protesters risk alienating many of us Americans who quietly support their cause.

In other words, thanks for the invitation to the party, but if it gets too crazy it’s time to shut it down.

Leave a comment Comments → 25
  1. swade2569 says:

    Fair enough, but please consider the consequences of the actions taken. A protester gets out of line and it’s used by the media and the authorities as a reason to take a harder line.

    A police officer (see overzealous pepper sprayer in NY as one of 100 different examples), is hidden behind the blue wall and at worst (in the case I mention) gets docked 1 weeks’ vacation.

    That is an inequity here that should not be lost in the discussion. You want to talk about immature responses; you would be wise to consider both sides of that argument.

  2. Well, I guess you’ve given up persuasion and are using fear-mongering and uncalled-for attacks. First of all, I am not sure how a group of people “take responsibility” for others actions. Are you saying that if there are beligerant drunks at a football game that I am attending that I am responsible for them? Am I responsible if they fight back when police try to arrest them? Because people who go to stadiums should be aware that those kinds of people attend football games, that is just providing a “venue for that kind of behavior” and we should just shut them down?

    The truth of it, if you would care to investigate instead of repeating one-sided Fox myths, is almost all of the sites have internal security systems. They cooperate with the police and report people to the police. Here is the OWS response to Mayor Bloomberg’s statements that are similar to yours.

    I have looked at local news reports from scores of OWS sites, and the police are happy with he cooperation they are getting from OWS at the sites.

    This from OWS link: “In reality, Occupy Wall Street has its own well-trained internal security force, but this team does not substitute for the police when it comes to criminal activity that threatens our community or local residents. Occupy Wall Street participants have called upon police on occasions when people with predatory intentions have come into the park and engaged in illegal and destructive behavior, and have in fact turned over criminals to the NYPD.

    Bloomberg lied yesterday when he claimed that a sexual assault suspect was merely kicked out of the park, when in fact OWS security personnel forcibly removed the individual and handed him directly to the NYPD,” said Andrew Smith, a member of OWS’s overnight Community Watch. “The Mayor should get his facts straight before he calls responsible citizens protecting our community ‘despicable.’”

    You say that any attempt to deflect blame is a tough sell. Well, the way I see it, you are trying to deflect blame from those individuals who are doing the violence to the huge majority of people who only want a peaceful protest. Sounds like you are ignoring your own advice.

    Maybe this blog is getting too crazy, too and its time to shut it down.


  3. smokey984 says:

    one sided biased bs again..what a disappointment. Again the actions of few, lets blame all of them attitude…cowardly and lazy reporting of an opinion.

  4. And this from the Los Angeles Times gives a more realistic picture of the Oakland situation than you did, Brian:

    “Wednesday’s action drew more than 7,000 people, including teachers, youths, seniors, union members and other citizens who said they were concerned about economic inequality. At an evening briefing, interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said officials believed that only about 60 or 70 of them — black-garbed with kerchiefs covering their faces — were believed to be committing acts of vandalism. Throughout Wednesday, members of the crowd had attempted to redirect and dissuade those self-described anarchists. When they broke windows and defaced several banks with graffiti, some Occupy Oakland protesters returned to scrub the walls of a Wells Fargo bank branch. Another placed a sign on the shattered window of a Chase bank branch that read, “We are better than this.”

    Brian, heed your own words and stop trying to deflect blame on the actions of one percent to the entire movement.

  5. UnbiasedReporter says:

    Well Officer O’Neill, should we blame the police misconduct on ALL police officers? What is with the stormtroopers tactics of elements of the Oakland PD?

    “Kayvan Sabehgi, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is in intensive care with a lacerated spleen. He says he was beaten by police close to the Occupy Oakland camp, but despite suffering agonising pain, did not reach hospital until 18 hours later.

    Sabehgi told the Guardian from hospital he was walking alone along 14th Street in central Oakland – away from the main area of clashes – when he was injured.

    “There was a group of police in front of me,” he told the Guardian from his hospital bed. “They told me to move, but I was like: ‘Move to where?’ There was nowhere to move.

    “Then they lined up in front of me. I was talking to one of them, saying ‘Why are you doing this?’ when one moved forward and hit me in my arm and legs and back with his baton. Then three or four cops tackled me and arrested me.”

    Sabeghi, who left the army in 2007 and now part-owns a small bar-restaurant in El Cerrito, about 10 miles north of Oakland, said he was handcuffed and placed in a police van for three hours before being taken to jail. By the time he got there he was in “unbelievable pain”.

    He said: “My stomach was really hurting, and it got worse to the point where I couldn’t stand up.

    “I was on my hands and knees and crawled over the cell door to call for help.”

    A nurse was called and recommended Sabehgi take a suppository, but he said he “didn’t want to take it”.

    He was allowed to “crawl” to another cell to use the toilet, but said it was clogged.

    “I was vomiting and had diarrhoea,” Sabehgi said. “I just lay there in pain for hours.”

    Sabehgi’s bail was posted in the mid-afternoon, but he said he was unable to leave his cell because of the pain. The cell door was closed, and he remained on the floor until 6pm, when an ambulance was called.”

    Of course we could also bring up the fact that ex-Officer Birk still walks free.

  6. Pacman33 says:

    Douglas Schoen, who served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton, interviewed nearly 200 protesters in New York’s Zuccotti Park.

    “Our findings probably represent the first systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion.”

    The study, reported by the Wall Street Journal, found the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people.

    “Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn’t represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse.”

    The protesters have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies. In addition, results of the scientific poll of the increasingly violent activists concluded virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda.

  7. Pacman, you should have identified what Schoen is doing now instead of what he did in the past. He is now a shill for Roger Ailes, and his polls have recently been called “intellectually dishonest” by many journailsts. Several of the people who said they participated in the poll say his questions as reflected in his op-ed piece were not the ones asked by his pollster. Specifically, they took issue with the question about being willing to participate in violence and the “whatever the cost” support for healthcare etc. The people polled said they were just asked if they supported universal healthcare.

    It is telling that he wrote an op-ed piece without linking to the actual poll or allowing others to see the actual questions. He has since provided a summary talley on his personal web site, but not the original questions as asked by the pollster.

    The op-ed piece made it seem like the values of the protesters were somehow out of sync with America mainstream, but if you look at the key ones, they go hand in hand with the Quinniac poll and others that show broad based support for the same things the protesters responded to. If you believe his numbers, then certainly all the negative comments about the protesters needing to get a job are wrong, since they have a job in the same numbers as the general public.

    An interview with a number of people that does not take into consideration the relationship between how many are asked and how many protesters there are or how many have protested is not “scientific” and Mr Schoen does not make the claim that it is scientific. He says it is the first “random” poll, which may or may not be true. It is not truly random, if he polled the first 200 people he saw or those holding signs, etc. And, randomness is only one of many criteria that makes a poll scientific.

    And just why would he make it seem like a negative that most of the protesters had been to a meeting where politics was discussed or written a letter to a politician or commented about politics – the question that was asked? Of course he turned that into an accusation that this proves these are long-time political “activists”. You and I would certainly have to proudly say, “yes” and be labeled by him as a dreaded “activist” since here we are commenting on a political event. Horrors!

  8. rivitman says:

    Well Brian. I suppose I should take responsibility for any crimes committed in my immediate vicinity.

    You know, I had occasion to do some time in Panama whist in the Army, and the Panamanians had what they term the “Proximity Law”.

    As such, the Panama Defense Force or local police could (and often did) arrest and jail anyone they chose within a two block radius of a crime of any sort. (A bribe would get you sprung).

    Sans the bribe part, your attitude is getting very PDF-like. Manuel would be proud.

    But actually, this being America…for the time being, we are responsible as individuals for our actions, outside of conspiracy to violate the law, or organized criminal know, like the Sopranos, or perhaps the financial derivatives markets)

    A broader brush can be applied when bad actors conspire to commit illegal acts, such as this:

    Oakland Cops Hospitalize Another Iraq War Vet with Lacerated Spleen

    “Bar owner Kayvan Sabeghi, a 32-year-old former Army Ranger and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, was arrested and beaten by Oakland police on Wednesday night during a crackdown on the generally peaceful Occupy Oakland protests that had been going on that day”

    I suggest any police (whom I have always supported) re-think what their general reasons and purposes for being police are, and who they really serve vs the wishes of their political masters.

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    Nothing like a little heated discussion, eh? I do find it unfortunate that a few of the commenters viewed the column as an attack against Occupy Wall Street. It is not. This column was intended only as a wakeup call, a call that is being echoed by many other people who subscribe to neither ultra left nor ultra right ideology.

    In response to Tuddo’s comments, I believe you took my party house analogy and stretched it beyond credibility. In my analogy the homeowner is responsible for the noise inside his house. I do not suggest that protesters be hauled away to jail for the actions of a few crazy idiots. C’mon, this is America (not Panama, rivitman).

    But to continue with the party analogy, when someone continues to throw that same party, over and over, the neighbors are going to get fairly annoyed with the homeowner. In similar terms, many people whose hearts and minds are one with the sentiments of Occupy Wall street are simply getting tired of watching the party rage out of control.

    Look, the peaceful protesters aren’t responsible for inviting rioters to the party. They are, however, daily responsible for setting the table.

    Bottom line, nobody wants to see any more violence.

  10. rivitman says:

    Yes it is different Brian. OWS is protected political free speech. The actions of a few bad actors has not one scintilla of bearing upon that unalterable fact. And I cannot understand why the cops don’t get this. One stone thrown results in tear gas, wooden bullets, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, flash bangs and baton beat downs. If it was longshoremen doing it instead of the thin blue line, there would be hell to pay.

  11. What or who’s agenda is being promotes with OWS?

  12. Brian, my example was stretched on purpose, because I believed you stretched your analogy to extremes, too. The homeowner is responsible because they own the home. It is private property and cops need a permission or a warrant or some reason to enter and restore order and lawfulness.

    I have no problem with police patrolling and keeping order in the people’s house – public property. I do not have a problem with the enforcement of no camping laws and other rules that some see as restrictions on free speech if they are done in a reasonable way, like in Olympia. I do not have any problem with lawful arrests of protesters who commit acts of civil disobedience, like not moving when police ask them to more.

    I do have a problem with a police-instigated riot, using uncalled for and unnecessary force, escalating the situation and then blaming the protesters for the melee. I do not defend people throwing rocks and tear gas containers back at the police, – arrest them.

    I do have a problem placing the blame on innocent people because, as rivetman says, they were in the proximity. I feel that your comments help polarize a situation and increase the “us vs them” attitude that many police show when they are frustrated with the constraints they are under as they try to protect society and that protesters feel when they are falsely blamed for actions of others.

    I know most police view this as a war against peace and order. I know many of the protesters believe that the police are representatives of the power and authority of the ruling oligarchs who want to quench any disturbance of the status quo before it threatens their established positions. I have friends on both sides.

    There are very many people who would like politicians to get the message and deal with real issues instead of reaffirming “In God We Trust” and then going home for two weeks.

    I think most people in this movement would like elected officials, those whose job it is to come up with “The Plan” that so many, including you and the editorial board of this paper call for. Then they could go home and vote for the plan that best suits them. That’s where I am.

    The Koch brothers coopted the Tea party movement and used Americans for Progress to bribe, threaten and pay off politicians, telling them if they did not listen to the Tea Party (even though it is a small minority of people) then there would be no more money.

    I think the unions are trying to use this tactic with OWS since it worked so well for the Koch brothers. Money is the only thing politicians seem to listen to anymore, not the voice of the people, so I can see why they are doing this. However, the OWS movements have told the unions that theya re free to join them, but they will have the same saya s other individuals, no more.

  13. @dejen2: each assembly is developing its own priorities, but the original OWS has develop a declaration here:

    We can see their grievances center on these issues:

    “…a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.”

    The Declaration states the purpose of the gatherings are to “create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.”

    The movement is a populist uprising similar to many others in our nation’s history. This one seeks to develop proposals for action by policians, banks and others as they work through their very tedious processes. They do not think representative democracy has served them and think direct action is the way to go. Sort of like Tim Eyeman who thinks he knows better than politicians and likes to take law-making into his own hands.

  14. Brian O'Neill says:

    Tuddo- I think we’re in agreement on many of the principles of OWS, even as muddled as these are. However, let’s agree to disagree on the venue. Thanks for your well thought out comments.

  15. If I were the City of NY, I would give them an offer they couldn’t refuse on Madison Sq Garden or some such. Or I would give a permit for tent camping at a venue equipped for such and allow gatherings in the park during the day and provide school buses for cheap rent to get the campers there.

    I think there are a lot of deals with cities and police that could be reached that would put these protests on simmer instead of boil and contribute more to safety and security than tear gas.

    I especially think that if they are heard and politicians start at least discussing the grievances a large number of people have with government today appearing to be directed by corporations, the protests would dwindle, just like the Tea party backed off their loud threats of using “Second-Amendment remedies” – threats of action by armed militias – when they started having some political influence.

  16. Earth_watch says:

    Hi, Brian. I’m afraind you’re confusing imagery from the Greek economic riots (that’s where Molotov cocktails were thrown at police) and incorrectly attributing it to Oakland.

    Another error in this, and many of your articles, is your assertion that anarchists are innately “violent”. No. Some anarchists have committed property damage, but that is not violence. Police officers injuring unarmed demonstrators, however, is violent. The majority of bodily harm at Occupy locations has been initiated and delivered by police, not protesters.

    But, I’m curious… if occupying a park near Wall Street isn’t the best way to bring and keep attention on the wealthy’s purchase of our political system, what method would you suggest? Thanks.

  17. Earth_watch says:

    Pacman33, the poll you referred to sounds flawed from the start. OWS was never intended to be only made up of the “unemployed”. I am employed, and am part of the movement. I am employed, yet can see that those with 1% of the wealth are using it disastrously, destroying the economy and environment.

    So, I’m grateful to those physically “occupying” for me. Perhaps the majority of them may be left-leaning activists, at the moment, but that’s not the issue. They are part of the broad 99% and I appreciate anyone who participates with the intent to bring positive change.

  18. Brian O'Neill says:

    Earthwatch- My reference to Molotov cocktails came from television news on the Oakland riots. The small business owners and earnest protesters were in shock at the violence. The media somehow captured footage of masked or hooded individuals throwing chunks of cement and stated aloud that Molotov cocktails were also used.

  19. Earth_watch says:

    Hi Brian. My point is: property damage (like breaking windows) is “vandalism”. “Violence” however, is what the police have been inflicting: direct, intentional, physical assault with the intend to harm. Between the two (the gathering of protesters and police) it’s the police who are the far more violent of the two, no matter how you spin it. One or two people throwing something from the crowd should not constitute full-out attack upon the rest of the crowd. If that’s how our police are being trained, then training needs to change.

    But, I’d still like to hear your thoughts regarding the continuation of your column’s thought… in your opinion, if meeting in a public park (which is meant to maintain attention on this issue) isn’t the best option, what do you suggest, instead? Thanks.

  20. Brian O'Neill says:

    From the AP: “Riot police arrested dozens of protesters in the city’s downtown, where bands of demonstrators threw chunks of concrete and metal pipes as well as lit roman candles and firebombs, police said. At least four protesters and several officers were injured.”

    I wish that I had a great idea to coalesce the OWS message into a political front, other than street protests, but I don’t.

  21. Earth_watch says:

    Hi Brian,

    The point you seem intent on making is that “protesters are violent”, “protesters started it” and “protesters got what they deserved”.

    Yet, typically when protests dissolve into violence, it’s often:

    1) only after police have shown up in riot gear, appearing to itch for a fight (it was peaceful before they arrived)

    2) discovered later that the instigators were “planted” in the crowd to start the melee.

    If we believe in Democracy and wish for it to continue, we should be supporting a long peaceful protest leading to positive change. If not, change will still take place, but regrettably perhaps more in the form of a hostile revolution. I want to believe that we can be patient and tolerant and listen to the voices of the people instead of allowing the few in power to pound the majority down.

    PS ~ I asked this in a previous column, but it may have been overlooked. All police are sworn in, right? Could you post the oath which TPD take, verbatim, please? Or direct me to where it can be accessed? Thanks.

  22. Earth_watch says:

    PPS ~ Interesting that the Seattle PI recently posted a very similar story, with a very similar slant (resulting in similar comments from the readers).

  23. rivitman says:

    You can’t tell me that the police aren’t culpable in trying to incite violence:

  24. S_Emerson says:

    Here’s a video of a Law Enforcement officer in Oakland who is supporting the Occupy movement. I hope you’ll watch it, Brian.


  25. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for the comment, Stacy. I did view the video and found the Oakland officer, Shavies, to be a very eloquent spokesman for cops like me who support the Occupy movement. Couple things.

    First, I appreciated how he wondered aloud if shooting tear gas at protesters would require re-thinking in the future, much as the use of dogs and fire hoses has largely been abandoned. That was an interesting concept, but my lack of knowledge on crowd control tactics leaves me at a disadvantage to talk about that at any length.

    Second, Shavies rightly pointed out that his role as an “infiltrator” was merely to identify the violent subjects that might be hidden in the crowd. I believe that to be an excellent role for cops, especially when protesters are quick to point out that (following a night of violence) only a handful of outsiders were responsible for rioting. Plainclothes cops embedded in the protesters are there to enhance public safety and avoid large scale violence.

    Thanks for the link.

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